Drew Thompson


This conversation is closed.

How does affluence impact biodiversity?

The idea that affluence plays a role in environmental harm has been around since the 1970’s. During that time, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren incorporated affluence into their IPAT equation which stated: environmental impact equals population times affluence times technology. While biodiversity is not explicitly mentioned in this theory, it is intimately linked to environmental health.  Biodiversity is the measure of variation among life forms from microbes to trees, and as such, the state of the environment will directly effect the diversity of organisms it supports.

This issue of affluence and the environment is more prevalent today than ever, as the number of consumers is increasing dramatically in rapidly growing nations such as China and India. These consumers often follow in the footsteps of Western countries, with appliances and automobiles becoming the norm for many households. The need for more material wealth brings the need for more energy and the extraction of raw materials. A more urbanized landscape can be expected as well. As these cultures shift in their lifestyles and values, how will  biodiversity be affected? In what ways do a society's affluence harm the genetic and species diversity of the surrounding environment?  Is it possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity?

  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: As the global economy and infrastructure exists today, we cannot function without the burning of fossil fuels, use of non-recyclable plastics, unsustainable food production, and other environmentally harmful activities. These behaviors are not bad in and of themselves. People need transportation to get food, go to the hospital, visit friends; disposable plastics are critical for sanitation in the medical field; current infrastructure in countries like the US means that life-sustaining food available to people at the grocery store is often not produce locally or organically. It is thus not affluence itself that must be diminished in order to preserve the plant, but rather the way in which we attain and use affluence. We must develop and invest in technologies that can supply us with energy in a sustainable way. Resources such as plastic need to be obtained at sustainable rates and recycled whenever possible. To learn about the extent and and impact of waste production, please visit a site I produced with fellow students this past year: https://sites.google.com/site/hc441materials/home. Food production needs to be localized so that adequate food is provided to those who need it, food is not wasted where is it not required, and energy is not spent on moving food that could be produced locally.

    Sustainability is the key to conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In a natural state, ecosystems work because their component parts interact in a sustainable way. Humans must start to view themselves as part of their local and global ecosystems so that we can also participate in sustaining life on the planet.
    • thumb
      Apr 26 2012: You realize that affluence is correlated negatively with both locally and organically produced food?
      We need the markets to let it worked out whom produces what food and not let ideological preferences prevail, if we want everybody to have plentiful food available.
      Energy is already priced into the equation of food production, it forms an integral part of the cost price of any food item. Only the market will be able to achieve the lowest possible price for food products, and thus increase food availability.
      • Apr 30 2012: No offense, but it always bothers me when folks talk about "letting the market decide". Unfortunately, our economy is based on a profit/loss equation that omits important social and environmental costs: there is no doubt that organically grown food is far more sustainable and far less harmful to the environment than foods that rely on heavy use of pesticides and herbicides; it is obvious that companies that pollute reap greater profits yet cause greater harm than companies that do not pollute. As long as our economic system allows corporations to avoid bearing the true cost of their production by shifting those costs to the public, "letting the market decide" is simply not the way to go. How can we create a "free market" that takes into account all the costs -- economic, ecologic and social -- involved in any human endeavor? Such a market would allow truly altruistic endeavors to thrive.
        • thumb
          Apr 30 2012: People are dying of hunger, because food prices skyrocketed, and you want to factor in ecology, to increase prices even further.
          I'd like to bring in a quote by a Kenyan scientist named Florence Wambugu:

          You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we eat first?

          Also, do not forget, organic food does not have any nutrional or health benefit to us.
        • thumb
          Apr 30 2012: To comment on the idea that organically grown food is far more sustainable and less harmful to the environment- this isn't necessarily true. For example, organic potatoes use less energy in terms of fertilizer production, but consequently more fossil fuel is used for ploughing. I have read that a conventional farm can produce up to 2.5 times more potatoes than organic farms. Is that more sustainable? Also, there is no strong evidence regarding organic foods to improve the overall health of individuals. Pesticides are actually used in organic farming, but they are labeled as "organic pesticides". Last, but not least, organic farms take up more land than conventional farms. Our society needs to be more aware of the products we are purchasing. Sometimes "organic" isn't all what it is cracked out to be.
    • Apr 26 2012: Really like your website, the section on bottled water was a real eye opener for me, thanks for raising my awareness :)

      Completely agree with you on the need for more local production of food, I work in the refuse industry, specifically the collection of garden waste for composting. I am absolutely astonished by the amount of pears, apples, plums etc that get thrown away by local people each autumn from trees in their gardens, sometimes literally whole bins full to the brim. All food that could be sold by them to boost their income or turned into jam, wine or anything really rather than just put in their garden bin. Will have to start badgering my bosses and the local council about this I think, Free Food Harvest Festival sounds good, will apeal to the PR value of such an initiative...

      I also agree that humans need to view themselves as part of the ecosystem and not seperate from it, after all we rely so much on the ecosystem to provide services for us for free, such as bees and other insects for the pollination of crops which can be harmed by an over relience on pesticides and fertilisers.

      Thanks once again for the link to your website.

      Kind Regards :)
      • thumb
        Apr 28 2012: This exemplifies the underlying problem that gives rise to the lack of sustainability that causes food scarcity: it is not underproduction of food, but maldistribution. When farmers are forced to throw away full bins of good food, that is a problem not in production, but a problem in demand. If the people of a community demand a more sustainable standard for food, ie. production at the local level of crops that are native to the local area, then production will match their demand.

        However, in communities of people that cannot predictably access food, the suggestion that they demand local production and local sustainability becomes an impossible objective for those people to reach on their own. We see this problem is many industries in developing nations: international aid organizations will send hundreds of thousands of shoes, t-shirts, etc. to developing countries. In the short term, this puts clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet, but in the long term, this makes the development of the shoe or clothing industry impractical, if not impossible. The people of their community will refuse to pay for even locally produced and sustainable goods when they can easily get those goods for free. This an enormous problem with the unsustainable way that international aid functions.

        The problem is cyclical. Affluent countries can, but rarely do, demand a higher level of sustainability. Often, those same affluent countries, under a paternalistic guise of protection, make sustainability in developing countries impossible by providing free goods that could just as easily be produced by the people that receive these goods. Instead of teaching or leading by example, affluent countries are forgoing an opportunity to set a precedent of sustainability and to assist developing countries in making their markets more sustainable. Only when countries with an opportunity to demand sustainability do so can we hope that countries without this opportunity will try to access it.
        • Apr 29 2012: Unfortunately I can not remember the name of the organisation as it was a story I heard on the radio while at work, but I know there is at least one NGO who give money directly to people in less developed nations in the form of micro-loans. As I remember they either didn't charge interest or charged a nominal rate and they specifically lent money to women on the grounds that they are most economically disavantaged and, they found, the most reliable at re-paying the money. The example in the story was very simple and allowed the budding entrepreneur simply to set up a stall outside her front door, selling shoes, saucepans and what ever else she could get her hands upon. The money returned was re-invested in other micro-loans to the community and after a while was administered directly by the community.

          On local food production, quite often the developing world simply needs food rather than worrying about sustainability, however even in the limited space of a shanty town people can come up with innovative ways to grow some of their own food. Just type 'vertical bottle garden' into the search engine of your choice to see some pretty amazing ideas all of which can and have been applied by people in developing areas. Sounds a much better idea than just throwing money at a government.

          I wholeheartedly agree with you that affluent countries should set a good example as those in less advantaged countries take a lot of ideas from what has gone before.
    • Apr 28 2012: Lauren,

      I think you make a great point. One of the biggest problems is that as humans we see ourselves as separate from the ecosystems in which we reside. I believe one of the biggest problems is how humans view themselves at the top of almost all aspects of this world. While there is no denying that we have had some of the greatest impacts, we are also just citizens of this world. How can we possibly know what is best for the world and the organisms that inhabit it? Because we view ourselves as separate from the ecosystems people are unwilling to see our role within the system. As people, we often have pride for where we come from or where we currently reside. We have pride for the state we live in, the town we were born in or the school that we attended. If we learned to identify with the ecosystem that encompasses these places, maybe people would find it easier to become passionate about conservation efforts.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: With cultures like China and India shifting their lifestyles and values to a more materialistic, westernized influence, the biodiversity that surrounds those area's can be negatively affected. Convenience is the main driving force for many people in the world today and more often than not technology and material items help make that possible. Unfortunately while this is being made for humans, other things have to pay the price such as biodiversity. Land that was once home to a number of plants, animals, and other organisms will be destroyed for the sole purpose of extracting raw materials that just happen to be there. Even the development of roads so that that mining area can be accessed more easily pushes the organisms further away, perhaps even killing them. The wants and needs of items made from raw materials start to outweigh the appreciation for having those raw materials and privilege that the materials are there in the first place. The notion that being able to want something and doing what you can to obtain it sets that view that anything can be yours, but why is that true? What gives you the right to feel you can have what you want? Resources are made available for the opportunity to live, not as something to make a living on.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: The equation by Ehrlich and Holdren that environmental impact can be expressed in terms of I=PAT is very intriguing particularly in relation to the degradation of our earth's biological biodiversity. I can't help but wonder if the equation could use some modification or possible updating or tweaking? The discussion at large here is how does Technology and Affluence affect environmental impact- and I believe there are many great ideas and arguments here for each side of different coins- is Technology the demise or possible future hero and how much Affluence is the right amount to be beneficial?

    So with all of opinions and debates on the table and once the dust settles, I can't help but wonder which of the three (Population, Affluence, Technology) variables is most important, and what, if any coefficients could go in front of them?

    Current equation: I=PAT

    What I wonder: I=xPyAzT

    The topic here is focused on Affluence and Technology, yet can any value be added to either three to give greater importance and how that might change from today to 2050 or 2100? I feel Population should have the highest coefficient by a long shot because we humans are undoubtedly the cause of not only biological degradation but nearly all other problems we are facing on earth- yet what weighs more detrimental with Affluence or Technology? And how might those values change as Technology becomes more advanced and Affluence shifts around our world over time? I understand such questions might be slightly off topic, yet very relevant because it is important to consider which of the three variables is most damaging to biology- for this discussion in particular Affluence or Technology- so we may then better understand what questions to be asking next.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2012: Some very interesting thoughts Neil. Obviously the simplistic nature of the IPAT equation cannot encompass the true complexity of human-environment interactions. I like that you mention how value can be added or subtracted to each component. These additions and subtractions of value could come from differences in scientific advancement or even cultural values. It will be interesting to see if in the coming decades, similar environmental "equations" come forth in the literature to try and boil down the complex balance between humans and the environment.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: This question remind me of the book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" which is about the global issues of climate change, overpopulation, and the rise of the middle class. As the world becomes more even, or flat, financially the "increased quality of life" puts an intense strain on our natural resources. In response to your question is it possible that technology will allow for increased affluence without harm to the environment I would say no. The IPAT formula is not perfect, but it does highlight how important affluence and technology are. I personally do not have enough faith in technology to say that it can counteract the negative impacts of affluence. Technology is very resource dependent, and even as it improves there is no way to, for example, stop using lithium in batteries. On the other hand technology hopefully will help decrease environmental damage to a point. What really needs to be addressed is our consumer society. How we view material things is not natural and although it has it's benefits such as creating a high speed economy, we need to stop ignoring the negative side.
    • thumb
      Apr 28 2012: I agree. Unless we perfect space travel to the point where we can move the entirety of our population to another planet, the advancement of technology may not be enough to propel us towards environmental redemption. Although we can continue to advance technology--as we speak, replacements for lithium in batteries are being researched--we are not addressing the issue of over-consumption. Our planet only has so many resources and although we can make things smaller and smarter, they still use resources. This poses an increasing problem as the global population increases, and with it, affluence. Maybe it isn't possible for every human to own a car? Maybe the way the average citizen lives in western society cannot be spread to the masses? We continue to ignore the role consumption has on environmental destruction. We choose, instead, to buy our new priuses to show the onlookers how "green" WE are, without acknowledging that the increased energy and resources that go into building and running a prius (including the lithium battery) may never be overcome by the fuel saved during its lifetime when compared to the clunker at the used auto lot. In this way, producers have spent billions if not trillions of dollars in advertising to let us know that it's okay to buy that bottle of water because it contains 20% recycled plastic. Isn't that nice.

      So, as I sit here on my computer, railing against affluence in my comfortable apartment, how do we make this transition from consumer to steward? Even those of us who realize that consumerism may be the problem are stuck in the way society views these products. I'm at a loss for a viable solution. How do we convince people that the solution might be to work backwards from the INCREDIBLY comfortable lives many of us live towards a life of treating the world with respect?

      Food for thought. I don't have an answer people will like.
    • thumb
      Apr 29 2012: I agree with the technology part. I don't think that technology can counteract the negative impacts of affluence. Technology requires us to do lots of mining to get the rare minerals needed to make many of the technologies today. Cell phones, computers and even Prius' require rare minerals which require much more mining than coal and other minerals that are more common. This mining for rare minerals requires more mining and destruction of the environment than normal mining and most often in very remote places. These minerals are only found in small quantities in very remote places.

      These Prius' are supposedly better for the environment, but in reality they are not. Even though they are advertized and seen as the best for the environment. They require the mining of rare minerals and use other forms of energy to run, rather than gasoline. They use energy that comes from coal, nuclear, and/or hydroelectricity which is just as or more damaging than the burning of fossil fuels.

      I think in some ways technology can help, but it is more likely that is will result in more damage to the environment before it does any good.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: I agree that it is often the middle levels of affluence that have the greatest impact on biodiversity loss. It is these levels where people have the luxuries that have become necessities, such as cars and large homes, but cannot quite afford the more environmentally friendly equivalents. Higher levels of affluence means more money to contribute to the production of ecosystem-preserving products and conservation projects occurring locally and abroad. In these cases, affluence has more of a positive impact on biodiversity preservation rather than destruction. Also, biodiversity loss can be attributed to the necessity associated with poverty. In many African nations, bush meat hunting is a common practice, and people are killing endangered primates simply because they have nothing else to eat.

    Because people are beginning to realize the extent to which our actions impact the planet, technology can be utilized to create new products and services that reduce the number of human caused extinctions. This is only possible with increasing affluence in developed and developing nations. With increased awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation, perhaps ecosystems can still be preserved as developing nations grow and prosper.
    In order for all of this to occur, there needs to be a change in the way we view the relationships between technology, money and the environment. Utilizing technology to better the planet and prevent biodiversity loss must become a necessary process instead of one only used when it will cause minimal financial loss.
    • thumb
      Apr 28 2012: Considering the first part, with which I agree completely, the logical way forward would be to maximize affluence as fast as possible. Every to humans related parameter correlate positively with wealth, so let us grow.
      • Apr 30 2012: On the scale of the individual human's quality of life, I agree that perhaps "maximizing affluence" is a way to slow the destruction of Earth's biodiversity. Hypothetically, let's say we find a person whose job is to extract oil from the Amazon rain forest and give him enough money to be able to quit his job, buy a big house, and live in leisure for the rest of his life. We now have one less person directly contributing to biodiversity destruction. However, this person is still indirectly contributing to the extinction of species by his standard of living. Even if he works to combat biodiversity loss, merely by driving a car, heating his house, and using a lot of water (the lifestyle of most residents of affluent nations), he will be supporting the industries that contribute to it.

        The affluent way of life on this planet is made possible by the destruction of habitat, ecosystems, and biodiversity by those who are not as affluent. Without the people clearing rain forest to make way for coffee and oil palms, without those whose farming practices result in desertification of already semi-arid land, without these non-affluent people who must take part in these activities or have no way to feed themselves, the affluent way of life would not be possible. Our society has developed in such a way that not everyone can be affluent. Not only are there not enough resources for everyone in the world to have a car and a nice house and running water and a computer and an ipod, but all these things are made possible by the biodiversity-destroying labors of less well-off nations and people whose activities fuel the world's infinite growth-model economy.

        Yes, with affluence comes more opportunity for combating biodiversity loss, but that does not mean that affluence should be "maximized," at least not in the way that affluent countries were able to attain their state of high quality of life--by consuming the world's resources.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: Consumption is a fact of existence, and we as humans have been depleting biodiversity since we evolved to hunt with tools effectively. The Pleistocene megafauna that roamed North America went extinct 11,000 years ago at least partly because humans arrived over the land bridge from Asia. There were undoubtedly other factors that contributed to their extinctions, but at least a little blame should probably be laid at the feet the early settlers of the continent who brought with them tools and disease.

    That being said, our current behavior far outstrips anything our ancestors could have accomplished with stone tools. I personally wonder if our need to buy ever-increasing amounts of things might be some kind of hoarding behavior left over from when saving food for the winter might be the fine line between life and death. Now that there's almost no evolutionary pressures, I question whether that urge to hoard might have gone haywire and been redirected by advertising.

    On the Pleistocene extinctions: http://exhibits.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/larson/LP_extinction.html
  • Apr 24 2012: I agree with your second question. It is not reasonable to expect other developing countries to put high demand on being greener while developing. I also somewhat agree that when your richer you tend to take better care of the community around you. For example, and rich neighborhood has all clean cut grass lawns, paved roads/driveways, etc. In conclusion it looks nicer and the environment is kept cleaner. But the thing wrong is that were they get all their products is in places like China, India places like that. They have really dirty and lousy manufacturing process that don't care how much they pollute. They just want money. So basically the world could never be affluence and pro biodiversity. USA is one of the few country's that is trying to lessen the pollution of the world and make inventions that will help this mission.
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2012: A large impact of affluence and the rise of urbanization will bring more microbial homogenization. We constantly think of the impacts on macroorganisms, but the microbial world will be ever so prominent in our expanding urban environment. This expansion will bring with it the destruction of habitats and naturally the loss of diversity.

    Also, I think its interesting that you ask if it is possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity, and I think that that is simply not possible. For our species to thrive we will must keep dipping our dirty little sausage fingers into more and more niches of the world, and by making more of an impact we will inevitably decrease biodiversity to allow room for those select few species that benefit us. Some species are just of less interest to us, and those will be sacrificed to allow for the others which will contribute more to our affluence.
    • Apr 24 2012: I agree. Even if our technology was the best it could be, we lived in a carbon neutral environment, we produced zero waste and we dedicated our lives to supporting biodiversity we would still be contributing to biodiversity loss, most likely. The problem is, and we see this in our current preservation and conservation efforts, that the human race gets attached to certain species and we become a proponent of them to the detriment of others.

      One over used example of this in the Pacific Northwest is the history of Salmon stock preservation. In the beginning we reacted to threatened and endangered stocks by treating just the salmon population, focusing on the species as a separable piece of the ecosystem. Next we tried to support salmon life by enhancing the community, and finally we moved into an ecosystem approach that we are still using today. But despite our improving efforts we are still overtly harming other species in an attempt to protect Salmon diversity and PNW ecosystem diversity. A lot of this harm to biodiversity is likely happening in ways we don't recognize yet. However some threats, and here's the controversial part, we are actively pursuing. California sea lions are a native species. More than that they are a threatened species which is finally coming back after nearly 70 years of being fully protected and here we are attacking them because they are new to this generation and because, in theory, they are drastically impacting the salmon stocks. There's a lot to be said on this specific issue but the fundamental point is that even trying to protect biodiversity with our best technologies and efforts we still end up having a negative impact because we latch onto the charismatic species of our choice and defend them to the detriment of all others.
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2012: As developing nations become more affluent, we can predict similar impacts that have resulted from the affluence of developed nations will become more prevalent and frequent. In the globalized world we live in today it seems inevitable that developing nations will take on western or developed nations’ ideals and lifestyles, which will bring about more biodiversity loss, increased over exploitation of resources, climate impacts, and far more environmental impacts we witness today. A large problem that may be associated with affluence is the waste that society produces as a product of affluence. Affluence does not need to be correlated with wastefulness. A society can live just as comfortably or at least very close to it, without wasting the earth’s gifts such as its resources and living organisms. To cut down on the amount we consume does not mean we are less affluent, in fact often we are left with more money. The quality of a life is not lessened by carpooling or taking the bus to school, or by using both sides of a sheet of paper, it simply makes sense to completely use the resources you are consuming. By cutting back on the amount of unnecessary waste, and by disassociating affluence with waste can deter from the negative impact of becoming a more affluent society.
    • thumb
      Apr 24 2012: That is an excellent point about the difference between waste and affluence. However, I would like to ask (to you or others) how reasonable it is to expect currently developing nations with growing affluence to follow a path that is less wasteful than the precedent set by the US and many other western nations.
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2012: The jury is not out anymore. The verdict is in. Rich people in Western countries don't give a damn for the state of the world or the survival of the planet or the suffering of others. They will waste and consume and discard and foreclose and grab for themselves trying to surround themselves with fences to protect just them.

        Second point: with the leading over-consuming, militaristic, imperialistic resource-hogging country falling apart from rampant selfishness, what makes you think that other countries are going to be following in the quicksand footsteps of the US? Situations change. Empires collapse. It has happened a thousand times. Why would the American Empire be any different? A new synthesis must emerge. Look ahead, not behind. Find what must be new. Don't just ape what we have become used to. It's not going to continue.
        • W T

          • 0
          Apr 30 2012: "A new synthesis must emerge. Look ahead, not behind. Find what must be new. Don't just ape what we have become used to. It's not going to continue."

          Let's hope so Paul........let's hope so.
  • W T

    • 0
    Apr 30 2012: Your question reminded me of an article I have from the 1990's on the rainforest. I am only giving you the first few paragraphs of the article. It is food for thought:

    "A CROWD is watching a soccer match and cheering wildly. They wish the game would last forever. But they keep shooting the players. One by one, the dead are carried off the field. The crowd becomes enraged when the game slows down.
    Deforestation is much the same. Humans enjoy the forests, depend on them, in fact. But they keep killing off the equivalent of the players: the individual species of plants and animals, whose complex interplay is what keeps the forest alive. This is more than a game, though. Deforestation affects you. It touches the quality of your life, even if you have never seen a rain forest.
    It is the tremendous variety of living things, what scientists call biodiversity, that some argue is the greatest asset of the rain forests."

    (The article is longer, but I am cutting it here)

    Affluence in and of itself does not have to harm earth's biodiversity. It is thoughtless humans who are responsible for not looking at the consequences of their irresponsible acts and wastefulness.

    Let's hope that we see a dramatic change soon....as Paul Palmer mentions in his comment.

    But how will the change come? And who will take the lead worldwide? We'll have to wait and see.

    Finally, you ask as your final question: "Is it possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity?"...........my reply.......I hope so, I sincerely hope so!!!!!
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: The consumption of Americans is at an all time high and is still on the upward swing. And, as you mentioned, other countries are growing to the level that we have been operating at. This has to cut down drastically on biodiversity since more humans and more consumption means that there will be a huge decline in the diversity health. Simply because there is a limited amount of space and if humanity continues to use up and take up resources, we are a sort of invasive species that spreads and thrives in the environment that we degrade. I don't mean to say that we don't have the capacity to live within our means, but we do live outside of what it should be.

    Surrounding environments are always changed by urbanization either through edge effects or lack of range for larger animals. This would in turn lead to a cascade effect of the negative kind. As to whether or not we can continue to consume at this rate, or even a higher one, without affecting the biodiversity and natural habitat; I don't think we can. We are very good at changing our environment and dealing with problems after they have occurred, but I feel like we would adapt too little too late.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: I think that the way that affluence is measured has a negative impact on biological diversity. Affluence in our culture is seen as something to flaunt, have a big house which requires lots of materials to build and energy to heat, have a big car that consumes gasoline, etc. As more countries have the ability to follow this model of "affluence" which leads to environmental degradation, then more and more biodiversity will be lost. However, if there is a shift from such unnecessary excesses to more sustainable consumption of resources then biodiversity can flourish. There are enough resources on earth to sustain every person, but not at the rate that resources are being wasted and destroyed.
    However, affluence makes this change seem unnecessary and counterproductive because everything seems fine as it is. People who live with affluence are generally happy to live as they have and changing the value structure of society would disrupt what many see as normal and positive. Affluence can lead to apathy and the desire to remain at the status quo.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: I think affluence is undeniably inversely related to biodiversity and will be so for the forseeable future, until the Green Age -- that is, the time when the paradigm shifts -- comes to fruition. Today, there are "green" entrepreneurs, a select several businesspersons who are able to capitalize on the environmental wave sweeping through (parts) of America, but the majority of the affluent (those who have the highest "standard of living" and income) are those have the largest footprint.

    Traditionally we think of the affluent as the technology-producers. All else falls to the wayside. However, I think a paradigm shift will be marked by a grassroots passion, in which the sparks that lighten up the country will be born from marginal and unmarked movements. "Corporations are people" too, but it is the individuals (who do not necessarily fall under a larger umbrella term) who are most potent, who have witnessed the earth's energy ebb and flow, who are free to weave the stories which will bind the web of diversity together once more.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: More likely than not, as developing countries try to obtain the same affluence as the developed countries, biodiversity will take a hit. I say this because thus far, most of the developing countries will be trying to follow the infrastructure, plans, and so on that were already set down in the past by the developed countries- it's already there and they're trying to "catch up" anyways, so they'll choose the easiest path (or at least, the path that seems to have the least risk). For the ones that choose this path, this will result in things that we've seen in multiple other areas; exploitation of resources to gain revenue, fragmentation of ecosystems and environments, etc.

    As for the possibility of positive changes in values/technology allowing for affluence to rise without damaging natural habitats and biodiversity... I think it's there, in that we'll be capable of doing it. It just becomes a question of whether people will become motivated enough and do so in time to make it reversible. People are capable of many things, some of which are brilliant and wondrous, and I really hope that we can get -both- the change in cultural values and the right technology in time. Because if we don't put our whole being into preventing biodiversity loss , or at least do some little bit that we can do to help, it won't be enough.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: I think that with positive changes, that affluence could continue to rise and not have such a negative impact on biodiversity and the environment. I think that it all depends on what the affluence actually is. Sure we might have an abundance of wealth or of products but if they are things that do not damage the environment as much such as eco-friendly products, then I think that we can reduce the negative correlation between affluence and the environment. In some ways an increase in affluence and technology could be beneficial if it is used in the right way such as advancements to help the environmental causes. We cannot go forward and fix all of the damage that has been done to the environment and to biodiversity without an increase in affluence. For example, in the early 90s there were high levels of lead found in the air due to cars. Now, even though the amount of cars has significantly increased, the process in which they are made and the materials in which they are composed of are much more eco friendly causing less overall lead concentrations in the air. This is significant because lead is a heavy metal that can bioaccumulate in many species which could directly result in the loss of bio diversity.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: I think that if we continue to grow populations and expand on technology in a way that is ignorant of the environment, we will most certainly see biodiversity begin to be affected. As areas become more urbanized we will begin to see certain species disappear as their natural habitats are tampered with. However, I think that there is hope in maintaining biodiversity in developing nations while also advancing technology. While other countries such as India and China have already affected their environments to a point of near no return, I think that more recent ideas about being eco-friendly will be incorporated into areas that are not fully developed as they become more affluent. Remaining conscientious about our surroundings and evaluating the consequences that our actions may have are key in moving forward.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: These questions immediately make me think of the book "Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh" by Helena Norberg-Hodge. This ethnography illustrates how the affluence of modern society can negatively impact not only the environment, but also interpersonal relations of the people that live on the land. When Helena first arrived in Ladakh the air and water were clean and clear, and the people happy and content without the need of any modern conveniences. Helena watched over the course of twenty years as modern society reached out to infect this society. As the Ladakhi became more and more involved in modern society, the air and water became polluted, and the people became homeless and unhappy. In this situation not only was there a negative impact to the environment, but the people were also severely affected. This exemplifies how modern technology as we know it negatively impacts the environment as well as the people. At this point, most indigenous cultures that once lived in harmony with the land have now been exposed to modernization. With this modernization comes abuse of the land to expunge its resources, and general discontent at the inability to become affluent. Material wealth isn't important if both the people and the environment are suffering, especially when the means to obtain material wealth involve sacrificing the land and biodiversity that maintain this planet.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: To me it seems inevitable that affluence has a negative impact of biodiversity. Greater affluence=Consuming more of the world's carrying capacity=less carrying capacity to support others=less organisms can survive=less biodiversity. Although like with many things, the issue of affluence's effect on biodiversity is more of a "how much" than a "whether or not" and in that sense, I think there are far too many factors to create some sort of "conversion factor" between the two.

    A tricky thing about affluence in terms of affluence is that it's a situation where the bar is set high. By that I mean is that that average level of affluence in a nation like America is, as far as I've seen, set as a sort of minimal acceptable level-everything below that is considered to border on inhumane. This all despite that fact that, compared to most of humanity's history, the average American basically lives like a king, and a lot of the things we take for granted are really very much luxuries. But because this kind of lifestyle has already been attained by many, it is considered inhumane for people to be stuck with less-and I can't say that way of thinking doesn't have its merit; it's certainly the "kindest" way of thinking about things. But for everyone in the world to live at such a high level of affluence, and even for the people who already live the high life to continue indefinitely isn't feasible. And the bar can't be lowered. For now at least, that high level of affluence is attainable and everyone knows it, and the idea that it lasts now but can't last forever doesn't stick and it never has. I do think, however, that if education and-dare I dream, advertisers-started treating like new advancements as added luxuries rather than all new necessities that you absolutely need even though somehow everyone before got by just fine without it, and treated advancement itself as a luxury as opposed to some inalienable right, I think it might be possible to stop the bar from going higher.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: I don't believe that an increase in affluence necessarily equates an increase in environmental impacts. I am not of the thought that technology will solve all of our problems. I do agree that with the right motivation and development affluence can promote biodiversity when applied towards technological and scientific advancements which promote biodiversity.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: What I don't understand is the role of "technology" in the equation by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren stating: environmental impact equals population times affluence times technology. If anything, I would think technology would decrease environmental impact with the switch to cleaner energy sources such as wind turbines and hybrid cars. It seems to me that the increase in technology would help the environment considerably. I do believe however in the case of hybrids, they need to make them appeal to a different group of people. Currently it feels like they are made to appeal to those who already are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, whereas they should be targeting those who are unaware of their actions. This could be done by putting the cleaner system methods in meaner looking cars such as the mustang, camaro, challenger etc. I for one would never drive a Prius based purely on aesthetics, until a hybrid muscle comes out, I will stick to my 15 miles to the gallon 2 seater. I have veered off the point a little, but the bottom line is with increasing affluence, they need to make the cleaner choice more appealing not to those who are actively looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, but to those who do not decide what products they buy based on environmental impact.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2012: And technology has always been as such, when automobiles replaced horses as the main transport, it was an environmental blessing. 20% of all land in agriculture was used for feeding them. The amount of methane they produced was insane, and horse dung lay knee deep in all the big cities, with vacant plots filled with dung piled higher than people.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2012: The technology component to the IPAT equation can positively or negatively contribute to environmental impact. There are obviously endless technological advancements that reduce ecological damage, but there are also a good deal of technology that allows humans to cause more destruction.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: Obviously as the numbers of humans rapidly grows, and perhaps more importantly, the amount of damage to the Earth each person does grows, biodiversity will be more and more negatively affected. Growing societies are becoming more industrialized and this will only add to the pollution, habitat loss, and resource loss that humans create on Earth. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect developing countries to forgo using and implementing many of the technological advancements that developed countries have been enjoying for decades, even if so many more people using these advancements will be more than the environment can handle. So, since it is inevitable that vastly more people will soon be contributing a massive amount of energy and resource usage on the planet, the best thing to do now is try and prepare for that. Research towards greener technologies is key because humans cannot continue to consume how they do now and expect to be on this Earth for much longer. The best thing people can do now is prepare for a future with higher energy needs and hopefully come up with better ways to get the energy.
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: There are over 7 billion people on the Earth today. The energy used to keep this place we call home functioning is 259,000,000 MWh and counting. More than 90% of that energy comes from a non-renewable source. If we take a second to think about the what this means, not only are we denying future generations the use of natural resources such as coal and natural gas, but we are also emitting so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that it is starting to affect the climate. This drastic climate change is affecting not only the animals and the overall biodiversity of our planet but also affecting us humans. If this isn't enough, the timber we are using per year to heat those big houses that we built are knocking out a number of species at a time. A lot of people are avoiding this topic because it doesn't seem like a big enough issue. And we have plenty of money, technology, and even intelligence to fix the problem when it gets here. And its true, we are a smart and if we all put our minds to it, we could fix the problem when its at its worst. But will it be too late? Will we have lost too much by that time? I believe we could have a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity but only if we start soon.
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: Until there is a paradigm shift in the way we interact with other nations and nature itself, biodiversity is going to suffer. The ever growing need of resources from affluent nations will out strip most short term benefits. That being said technology can help alleviate some of the issues, such as burning fossil fuels into another resource, but will other resources like solar, wind, and/or hydrothermal on a large scale be any better?
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: It is clear that biodiversity is being affected by humans, but biodiversity would be changing whether humans were here or not. I feel like another way to look at it is how much are humans affecting biodiversity beyond what would be naturally occurring. However, are humans not also natural? Where should the line be drawn between naturally occurring human activity and the unnatural?

    In regards to positive changes in values or technology, I feel as though a positive change to one person may be seen as negative to another. For example, an advancement in technology may seem positive to people who will directly benefit from it but if this advancement requires a further destruction of an ecosystem in order to harvest raw goods, others would likely view this advancement as a negative. So to answer the question, no I don't feel like it is possible for there to be advancements without detriments because no matter how one goes about it, resources will always be taken from somewhere and someone will always end up disappointed.
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: I would have thought that developing countries nowadays would be more environmentally conscious than they are, given the changing worldview that the environment is a precious resource and we are destroying it at a rapid rate. However, I don't find this to be the case in many areas of the developing world, China would be a good example of this. Poor water and air quality in many areas of the country only goes to show that, like the United States, they are prioritizing human concerns such as housing over environmental ones. Only when people are negatively affected by prior decisions to neglect the environment in favor of more housing, farmland, etc. will they begin to manage resources more carefully and thus slow the rate at which they damage the environment.
  • Apr 29 2012: Thought this was an interesting article on affluence and the environment

  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: Although technology could potentially reduce our impacts on Earth’s biodiversity and natural habitats, we all need to make lifestyle changes to avoid complete destruction of Earth’s biodiversity. We live as if Earth has infinite resources and humans are the primary cause for the current mass extinction. In my opinion, it will be very difficult to increase our affluence without harming our biodiversity since this current mass extinction is directly correlated to the industrialization of many different countries. Furthermore, the world population will continue to grow and place greater stress on our planet. Given our history of over-exploitation of Earth’s natural resources, I believe it will take something truly catastrophic, such as severe water shortages, for humans to make the necessary lifestyle changes needed to preserve our planet’s biodiversity.
  • Apr 29 2012: For those of us working in the developing world these issues are never going to be straightforward, but quite alot of theory has been generated around appropriate technologies in support of decentralized communities and services which, as you can imagine, are the counterweight to urbanization and big industrial downstream processing centers (as China has planned). In Papua New Guinea, as with other Pacific Island States, wealth creation has tended to rely on environmentally destructive practices, but the communications media has become an centripedal force away from these, allowing small farmers to access markets, services, politicians and ideas from distant locations and cutting out the middlemen and transport costs, including envrionmental costs. Much the way countries like PNG tend to jump forward faster than large first world behemoths, getting fax machines before telexes and mobile phones before landlines, things like solar technolocgies, wind turbines, small scale fermentaries and processing facilities will soon outpace the centralized dinosaurs of the past and in fact create more sustainable wealth for remote people (who dont have to move to towns, can invest in their own areas, bank at home, educate in the village etc), and in this way support biodiversity of a micro order: cultural and linguistic diversity, the richness of plural ideas and thought processes, and thus the constant motion of trial and error and invention---and not least, the protection of local lands and habitats by their natural guardians. It's not a balanced equation by any menas right now, but it could be soon enough.
  • Apr 29 2012: If the United States were to step up and create very strict ordinances to combat biodiversity losses, would developing nations feel the need to follow in our footsteps or would they take the path with the least resistance? Unfortunately, the topics of biodiversity loss and the effects of our consumerism tends to be limited to academia and often fails to reach the vast majority of the public who may not be aware of the damaging effects our economy has on biodiversity. If the United States were to put consumerism at the backbone of the issue, then perhaps we could demand "greener" products and help ebb the losses of biodiversity world wide. The affluence that leads to consumerism certainly does not limit the damage to biodiversity to just the country of affluence but also to the countries who produce our products. Essentially, our economy may be able to wield immense power globally because foreign countries which produce our products would be forced to decrease their impact and increase their infrastructure.
  • Apr 29 2012: I believe that the current trend of "urbanization" and "modernization" has created a threat to our planet that has never existed before. With more developing countries gaining affluence and consumerist ideals, their effect on climate change and the loss of biodiversity will also continue to grow. This does not necessarily spell doom for the human race however, as developing countries gain affluence they also rapidly gain knowledge. This knowledge base continues to grow as more countries join and share within the global society. Our planet is definitely facing a grim picture right now, but with our ingenuity and a crisis mentality, we can quickly change our malpractices and reverse the effects our society is having on the planet. This challenge must begin at the local level but as more support for a better society is gained, it's momentum will spill over into many different fields and a positive chain reaction will occur on a massive scale. So I believe that the current rise in affluence around the globe can correlate with a healthier planet, however, for this to occur, we can no longer be living in a fog about our effects on the planet. The truth must be realized before our society can truly make a positive change.
  • Apr 28 2012: After watching Paul Gilding's talk about the how the "Earth is full" in combination with my own observations, I do no believe that there appears to be any way in which increased affluence can in any provide positive change to the planet. As many of us are aware, humans are the epitome of an invasive species. Therefore, we are out competing the species we share this planet with. Hence, there are very little ways that we will be able to provide for those who we share our ecosystem (the globe as a whole) with. I DO believe that we, as humans, have the capability to have a lesser impact on the biodiversity of the planet. However, in my opinion we cannot have a positive impact on heterozygocity and maintenance of healthy ecosystems. Increase affluence generally implies increased ability to consume (regardless of whether the product consumed is more eco-friendly, consumptions negatives effects the planet). Consumption for the individual is meant to benefit the individual and therefore, increase the individuals wellbeing and fitness on an evolutionary standpoint. Therefore, by increasing our fitness (as an invasive specie) we decrease the quality of habitat for other species, which will eventually lead to a decrease in genetic and species diversity.

    I realize my arguments are not very optimistic because I believe that the damage has already been done. This by no means implies that individuals should stop reducing their carbon footprint, encourage technology to aid in the increase in biodiversity, etc. Each individual and slow down the negative impacts. That is valuable in its own.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: I think the relationship between biodiversity and affluence is probably resembles a bimodal curve. One one side, the smallest levels of affluence (think--indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures) have very little negative impacts on biodiversity. As you move across the spectrum to the middle levels of affluence (the vast majority of countries and people) the impact of cars, electrical power, permanent housing, manufacturing, etc. is at its peak levels. The at the end with most affluence, individuals are capable of generating lots of money to strive for carbon neutrality, conservation efforts, and other "green" efforts and many seem interested in doing so.

    I think a better question would be: how does the generation of wealth affect biodiversity? This question has the ability to be answered with quantifiable metrics... carbon emissions of various companies, habitat destruction by logging/oil/farming industries, and chemical output by manufacturing plants. These things can be measured and subsequent data collection can be done to measure the impact on the environment locally, regionally, and globally. Until the ideas of biodiversity, conservation, and "going green" move past buzz words and into specifics, I think it will be difficult to build enough support for actual positive change.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: Yes biodiversity is being affected largely by humans, unfortunately humans don't care. Just like Paul Gilding said humans don't really care what they are doing because to the average person nothing is changing. Humans wont try and change their ways until their pets start dieing off or the sky turns into a smoggy yellow color. Once the average everyday person is confronted with a change that they can see them selves is when they will change. I think that humans aren't uncaring animals we just are lazy and don't want to deal with problems till they become so massive that they threaten their normal way of life.
    • thumb
      Apr 28 2012: If humans wouldn't care, there would be nothing unfortunate with biodiversity loss.
      There is nothing intrinsically good of more biodiversity as opposed to less biodiversity. Nature doesn't care, the Earth doesn't care. 4.6 billion years of thoughtless and aimless increase and decrease in biodiversity we had, and 4 billion years are yet to come. The only thing that more biodiversity is good for, is that it supports more biodiversity.
      The amount of biodiversity lacks any intrinsical value, the only value it has, is because of the fact that we do indeed care.

      When 65 million years ago a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs was this a bad event? Or just an event? No one was around conscious enough to care, no one was there to provide a moral judgement on the event.

      If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
      • Apr 28 2012: The Permian/Triassic end extinction event, which has been called the mother of all extinctions caused some 57% of all families and 83% of all genera became extinct. Even the insects suffered and it has been suggested that the reason it was so severe was owing to a cascading eco-system faliure, where enough species went extinct to cause the whole thing to collapse like a house of cards. Be a shame for us if that happened, would even have an economic impact and upset the most dedicated cornucopian capitalist...
        • thumb
          Apr 29 2012: Thanks for confirming my statements.
  • Apr 27 2012: I was reminded today of another bio-diversity side effect of increasing global affluence, as it relies on global trade links it can inadvertantly lead to the spread of invasive species. The news article in question was on the arrival in the UK of disease carrying mosquitoes from South East Asia in a consignment of tires although that appears to have been an isolated incident.

    Another invasive species of concern in my local area of UK is the Asian Longhorn beetle, believed to have arived in a shipment of timber from China, a quick google shows it has already become a problem in the Eastern United States. I'm sure that anyone living in proximity to the Great Lakes or indeed many US waterways doesn't need reminding of the Zebra Mussel, thought to have been introduced via water ballast from the Black Sea. Certainly rats introduced to Pacific islands have led to the extinction of many native bird species. The list goes on and on and it's not something that can be solved by consumer choices or changing production and 'waste management' methods.
    • thumb
      Apr 28 2012: Continental species practically never become extinct, so you could argue that invasive species raise the biodiversity locally in continental regions. In my home town Rotterdam I greatly enjoy the arrival of the beautiful South American Parakeet.
      • thumb
        Apr 28 2012: De halsbandparkiet (Psittacula krameri) is een exoot uit tropisch Afrika en Zuid-Azië.

        With this you are as accurate as with everything you claim to know about life.
        • thumb
          Apr 28 2012: Pathetic to discredit my whole reasoning because a totally irrelevant thing I mention is incorrect.
      • Apr 28 2012: Well about from the ones on these lists, excepting the ones on the lists from islands which according to you are a special case.


        Incidently the reasoning for excluding island species is presumably beacuse they are limited in number and geographical extent in the first place? If so we might as well not include the species found in continental rainforests seeing as rainforest species tend to be have small numbers and be limited in geographical extent too.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: I do believe that positive changes in technology and values can allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity. Cuba gave a great example of this with the results from their economical crisis in the early 90's. They were able to change their modern agricultural practices to exclude chemical fertilizers and pesticides and to drastically decrease the amount of raw material used to run their population, all of these practices resulted in an increase in biodiversity and a healthier population. Here is some more info on the subject. http://www.springerlink.com/content/q271877700x43578/ peace
  • Apr 27 2012: Haven't looked at your writing or answer, just to answer the question, and will read your posting thereafter:

    Affluence, increases the purchase of similar products in similar quantities, reagrdless of supposed sex or cultural differences and thus drives down diversity, and of course biodiversity. Example: Beef, or Pigs, more affluence, more use, less space for other things, and less biodiversity. Even the example of Soy, more affluence in Asia, increased desire for Soy, more forests in Brazil, slashed and burned, decreasing biodiversity from destruction of Rainforest, exhaust the soil, slash and burn again, ad inifitum. Etc....Further, history has been one, with the increase in population of humans, as a decrease of biodiversity, and despite recent emphasis, this is a natural extension from the expansion of man. Whether, it be the increase in need of man due to his success in re-creation of other human's via sex, or the decrease in natural predators in the natural environment, an ever steady decrease in biodiversity.
  • Apr 27 2012: Affluence leads to consumerism. It's okay to be affluent, we just need to make sure we focus on community and sustainability instead of perpetuating disposable mentalities.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: hello

    NO to the last question - affluence contributes to the degradation of the planet from big SUV's to itoys as well affluence and this level of consciousness that being a whole system takes from one part of the system at the expense of the other - as this system is based in a duality and not a unity it is also based on lack and competition for resources so that affluence within this system will always come at a huge cost
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: This concept reminds me of an e-mail I got a couple of days ago from Greenpeace, it was a video regarding Apple's use of dirty coal energy to power the famous iCloud feature. I find this relevant because everyone nowadays has an iPhone and if not they have some other smartphone, and now many have come so depended on having internet on their phone. It is no longer enough to just have text, everyone has internet. Now the iCloud feature on Apple is becoming popular and soon it will be essential once people begin to accustom themselves to it. So now that Greenpeace is making a campaign to have Apple engage in renewable methods, I wonder how people will react. Some technology becomes so second nature to Americans that I doubt anything would make them change or stop using certain technologies.

    Here's a link to the video :
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: It is true that many "luxuries" seem to evolve into "necessities" over time. I'm sure at one point electricity was a luxury, as was owning a washing machine. However, many of these luxuries have allowed time and energy to be focused on cultural and scientific issues which has lead to great global progress. I think there is a fine line between frivolous luxuries and the luxuries that come with affluence which may in fact help us to shape the future in a positive way. It is a shame though when such ubiquitously found items such as iPhones are tied with the misuse of resources.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: I don't think our drive to consume is out of place in nature. I think the motivation for consumption is survival. Animals don't worry about eating too much food as long as they're able to survive. I think that consumption is something that humans especially have been particularly good at. Only, maybe it didn't always have such a significant impact. Before the slow and clumsily switch to agrarian societies humans we able to support themselves as hunters and gatherers (and fishers.) Their seasonal movement let the land go farrow and allowed decimated populations of plants (and maybe animals) to return to higher populations. But with sedentary populations, there is a drastic decrease in biodiversity in land in association with humans (weedy plants are removed to make way for the planting of other crops) and the human diet is homogenized. Only our populations grew. There is no time to let things go fallow, and no where for that process.

    It makes me wonder if the idea that consumption is a modern development is really founded. If not, then it isn't just laziness, greed and the desire to eat chips and watch the telly that's driving us to consume: it's our genetics. So affluence does have a negative affect on biodiversity. We were just a little better at consuming, which caused our affluence. And what's worse, there isn't really any way for us to go back to the mythical time when humans lived in harmony with nature, because life was hard, and I know for me that I don't want a hard, short life. 7 billion people can't be hunters and gathers. And I doubt that 7 billion people will unanimously stop striving for affluence. Or at least not until, like Paul Gilding says, we have a crisis.
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: Very interesting perspective! It reminds me of the Huaorani people in Ecuador who lived sustainably with their surroundings until the introduction of guns. I'm sure they always had a drive to hunt as much as they could, but with modern weaponry, it simply became easier to extract spider monkeys from the forests. Not to seem cheesy and adapt a quote from Spider Man, but it would seem that with great affluence comes greater responsibility. Namely, it comes with the responsibility to control the possibly natural desire to consume and extract resources at will.
  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: Every year we see more restaurants, shopping centers and roads being built all so we can continue to consume and consume even more than the year before. I find it interesting that you never see knew parks or nature reserves. I think we have seen in the US that affluence and increased urbanization have had negative effects on biodiversity. Not only due to habitat destruction and degradation but things we don't often think of such as noise and light pollution. Light pollution has affected numerous species but most often bird species located near cities. It has thrown off their circadian rhythm making days longer and confusing them on the right time to initiate their bird song. This could lead to miscommunications during mating season and inevitably less of this bird species being born each year. Decreasing biodiversity.

    I have also seen first hand in Peru the switch to increased consumerism. Before the corner grocery store or market was the only place to purchase food and goods and even then you would have to go to multiple to get everything necessary. Now with the recent growth of wester-style supermarkets these smaller stores and markets are losing business. While this is only in the largest cities I fear that the trend will continue even down to the smallest cities. Just as we have seen here I can see these large supermarkets harming habitat and bringing more traffic and pollution to these small towns creating numerous problems for biodiversity. My hope is that as our lifestyle begins to change heading in the direction of a more green lifestyle the lifestyles of developing countries will follow quickly behind us.
    • thumb
      Apr 26 2012: Peruvian lives are improving tremendously as measured by the Human Development Index: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/PER.html why such disdain for the side effect of affluence named consumerism.
      My hope is that they continue on this road, and they do not let Westerners set their priorities, so they can have as comfortable, healthy and long lives as we do.

      And what are you talking about, there are new natural reserves created constantly.
      • Apr 26 2012: While I disagree with a lot of what you say I do like to engage with viewpoints that challenge my own. Do you think there is anyway that we could help/encourage people in developing countries, such as Peru, to acheive a level of affluence like developed countries, such as the US, without spreading cultural imperialism? Where they could avoid some of the pitfalls that developed countries have fallen into in the past but still maintain their own cultural identity without becoming clones with the same brand names everywhere?
        • thumb
          Apr 27 2012: First of all, don't confuse cultural imperialism with Western disdain of their own culture. Developing countries love to embrace parts of our culture (and in turn infuse culture of their own into the global domain), it is mainly we that dislike the disappearances of local cultures there, you might say we practice the ideology 'export nationalism'.
          More importantly, affluence will enable people to celebrate and reinvigorate their traditional cultures, as in all of the developed world is happening. e.g. in Scandanivia there is now talk of the Sami people renaissance, or in New Zealand the Maori renaissance, also the inuit renaissance is named. Many cultures celebrate their heritage, precisely because they now have the means to do so. Or look at a country like Japan, which might have given as much of its culture to the world, as the world gave to it, why? Because with wealth and affluence it had artists, engineers, architects, musicians, developers, bloggers, designers to put their cultural ideas into practice and promote them to the world.
          So I don't see loss of culture as a necessary side effect of global trade.
  • Apr 25 2012: I think that with regards to the IPAT equation the main point is that Population X Footprint = Impact.

    After all it is possible to envision an affluent, technological society that has a minimal impact on it's environment other than the space that is physically taken up by the population and it's cities. Seeing as we are racing towards increasing urbanisation then it might well be possible to keep our influence and impact restricted to those urban areas. I'm thinking along the lines of fusion, geothermal, solar power plants. Industry based on recycling resources and repair rather than extraction, manufacture and throw-away. Permaculture/hydroponic type farms. Thats the bright side of the possible future.

    All the while that urban centres require the importation of resources whether those are agricultural or mineral then they have a massive disproportional impact on the ecosystem and biodiversity. All that agriculture replaces biodiversity with the ecosystem equivalent of low diversity deserts. Mining/resource extraction and the accompanying pollution likewise destroys biodiversity especially by polluting watersheds. Not to mention the wastes that cities/civilisation exports to the environment. So the business as usual scenario is definately the dark side of the possible future as increasing global 'affluence', measured by material aplliances and wealth means increasing environmental destruction. At the very extreme leading to a horrifc cascade of species extintinctions and anthropegenic climate change that ends up with humanity on the reject pile as well.

    Hopefully we can make the future turn out like the Peter Diamandis talk...
    • thumb
      Apr 25 2012: How likely is it that we will see a change from the status quo? It is reasonable to think it may take a global crisis to see any real change in behavior, as suggested by Paul Gilding?
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2012: It seems that the only major differences between talks by Paul Gilding and and Peter Diamandis is the catalyst for social and environmental change. Both speakers recognize that change is necessary and that human innovation will be critical in solving the problems of human impacts on the environment. It is hard to say whether or not humans need a crisis in order to act . However, from experience with how people get themselves involved in community and volunteer groups, it seems that people generally need to have personal experience before they will commit themselves to a cause. Current environmental issues are very complex and need a lot of man power behind their solutions. Such force is unlikely to be generated by a public that has not been motivated to act by personal experiences with the degradation of the planet. Of course, there has been quite a lot of action to diminish human impact on the environment, particularly in European nations such as Denmark and Germany. These countries provide an example of how real change can occur once we stop debating about whether something needs to happen, but rather how to get it accomplished.
      • Apr 26 2012: To give an example from the UK, where I am from, solar panels on the roofs of houses have become a fairly common sight, through a government scheme. Although people were fairly sceptical at first, they soon realised that they were better off without having to pay spiralling energy bills and became active recruiters for the scheme. Unfortunatly the way the scheme was set up, using a feed in tarrif system, caused it to become a victim of its own success. The government, realising it would be paying substantial costs for the scheme abandoned it, citing it had been 'too successful'. So it doesn't need a crisis, just for people to be educated about how better off they would be with lower cost or free electricity and, as Lauren states above, with lower cost or free food.

        However at the moment most people are struggling with personal economic problems and so are seeking alternatives. The economies of scale that come from industrial food production are increasingly being off-set by the cost of getting that food to the supermarket. The cost of energy by the cost of fossil fuels in real-world adjusted prices. I think those of us concerned about environmental issues (of all kinds) can use this to our advantage to educate peeople about the need for change...

        Those of us fortunate enough to live in democratic systems can petition our representatives for change, we can vote for representatives who reflect our views, or even form our own political parties if needed ala - http://www.ted.com/talks/rick_falkvinge_i_am_a_pirate.html
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2012: As the human population increases, regardless of the affluence, there is no feasible way in which biodiversity isn't harmed in my eyes. Even if developing nations don't follow the "western" model of life, these people are still going to need more and more resources like food and water that are increasingly hard to come by. Affluence seemingly only breeds more destruction as humans are very specific about which species and organisms they choose to breed or eliminate. This can be seen as we homogenize species like cattle to fit our specific needs, regardless of the impact on the ecosystem or the long term survival of the species as we know it. Further affluence may eventually allow for cleaner energy, more reserves, etc. but humanity is still expanding and utilizing more and more resources and polluting the environment every day.
    Fortunately, increasingly efficient technology and better regulations are doing a better job of protecting biodiversity both on a systems level and a species level but there is no end in sight to humanity's assault on the natural environment. With globalization increasingly invading more and more remote locations, it is only a matter of time before there are no pristine, fully intact ecosystems with healthy levels of biodiversity.
    • thumb
      Apr 25 2012: Not necessarily so.
      Remember our main energy is from fossil fuels, and nuclear, both sources that almost nothing in nature can utilize, especially not the fossil fuels that are kilometers below the surface. What's more, the CO2 released IS a resource for life. In fact, we have rescued this valuable resource, needed by all plants, from disappearing for millions of years in the Earth's interior, and forests are flourishing because of it.

      Another theoretical option concerns the enormous inefficiency that nature works with, e.g. solar panels are more efficient than leaves in extracting energy from the sun (leaves of course need to have many other functions besides harnessing the energy of the sun effectively).
      So we could theoretically put more energy into the ecological system than it uses now, e.g. by harnessing the sun more effectively, utlize the underutilized energy of fossil fuels or nuclear, tap into geothermal sources, even perform fusion, and more. Now already London e.g. has 10 times more foxes per sq mile than the countryside, birds are fed massively by people in winter and e.g. in Rotterdam many birds fly into cities in the morning to eat, to return in the evening to their islands to sleep.

      Interesting, but not very relevant facts:
      At the end of the 19th century only 800 bisons remained in the US, now there are 350000. Or the humpback whale population, that was cut down to 700 in 1966, but rebounded to 80000 now.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: Victor -
        Yes CO2 is a natural resource, and one necessary for many of life's processes. However, to say that we have "rescued" it from the earth is a bit of a stretch. The fact that we are releasing CO2 at such rates that we are acidifying the oceans and causing coral bleaching leads me to believe that there is nothing "rescued" from fossil fuel consumption.

        Also, you point out how humans have indeed reversed the decline (that was anthropogenic) of several species such as bison and many whales. However, while you focus you attention on these charismatic megafauna, you ignore what diversity may be decreasing at a microbial level.
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2012: The exchange of wisdom from the developed to the developing might seem to be the logical step. But the lure of affluence overrides both wisdom and logic, and developing nations will take their own path to that illusory goal.

    Like it or not, the goal of affluence on a national level is now illusory because the substance that powers it is finite. The oil crisis is approaching fast - and no nation and nobody is geared up to facing that reality.

    This is not doom-mongering - it is reality.
    • thumb
      Apr 25 2012: "The exchange of wisdom" is just a euphism for the latest display of Western arrogance of people that claim to hold fundamental truths and feel they should gospel it to the developing world (sustainability, ecology). Just like missionaries spreading Christianity thought they were doing the right thing, Westerners now spread sustainabilty because they think it is right. They are very wrong to think they are able or allowed to set the priorities of people in the developing world.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: No, it is not a euphism [sic] - and neither is wisdom (in its uncorrupted form) in any way arrogant.

        Are you saying that experience is not in any way related to wisdom? How do you think society moves on scientifically, ethically, etc if not though accumulated wisdom distilled from experience?

        I agree with you that the spreading of a BELIEF is arrogant in the extreme, since it is often far removed from truth, and is spread through indoctrination.

        However, I do think you are confusing wisdom with belief. Wisdom is neutral - beliefs are not.
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2012: Environmentalism is a belief, you claim absolute truths, just like religion does. Christianity was spread in good faith, with convictions that rang true to those preaching them.

          The Greater being is not God anymore, but Gaia, we are not his children now, but that of Mother Nature. The moral consequences are the same though, repent for you sins (the sin is commited against nature, you can repent e.g. by offsetting your carbon footprint), greed is bad, you should acknowledge your part in a greater whole, and constantly it is tried to install fear by doompredictions, just like other religions. It is conservative and people are urged to restrain their needs, just like religion.
          So Westerners move into the developing world, try to stop jungle from being cut down, which they say is in the interest of the developing world, but truth is, they don't know that. They are holding back essential economic growth, because of an ideology they hold dear. We will look back in a 100 years at these environmental zealots, just like we do now on religious zealots.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: No - incorrect. Climate change for instance, is based on scientific evidence. The belief systems are the ones that fall over themselves to deny that evidence. The root of that belief? - The idea that somehow the current Westernised lifestyle can carry on for ever, even in the rapidly dwindling presence of its own lifeblood - oil.

        Any belief system that is not open to criticism or self-doubt is dangerous, because its raison d'etre is rooted in omnipotence and the idea that only a single truth exists (I think we agree there). Hence the need for neutrality in the wisdom accumulated from experience - which can be passed on from one generation to another and indeed from a developed nation to a developing nation.

        Perhaps it is naive to expect that level of neutrality in the giving and receiving of such wisdom - and whether that wisdom is born from economic criteria and capitalism, or from more humanistic/environmental criteria. One is sustainable - the other not. Which one do you think, and why?
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2012: Excellent points Allan. There are indeed distinctions between environmentalism and scientific evidence. I would also argue that sharing the knowledge of how activities such as river damming effect the surrounding ecosystems is not rooted in "environmental" belief, but rather in scientific observation. One can certainly present environmental observations in extreme and morally-condemning ways, but that does not have to be the case.
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2012: Thanks for bringing up climate change, as it is a fine example of dangerous perceived omnipotence. Best argued by:
          Nobel Prize-winning physicist and erstwhile Obama supporter Ivar Giaever has resigned as a Fellow from the prestigious American Physical Society to protest the organization's promotion of manmade global warming fears.
          Norwegian-born Dr. Giaever shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973 for work at General Electric related to superconductors.
          In an email to APS Executive Officer Kate Kirby on Sept. 13, which was obtained by the Climate Depot website, Giaever said:
          "Thank you for your letter inquiring about my membership. I did not renew it because I cannot live with the [APS] statement below:

          "'Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate.
          "'The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.'"

          Giaever goes on to say: "In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"

          Predicting the change in climate is futurology and futurology is pseudoscience, very well argued by Matt Ridley http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/01/thank-you-matt-ridley/

          Let alone that economic arguments, which matter the most, don't play any role at all when thinking on global warming and the future.
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2012: Well,ok - maybe Dr. Giaever thinks we will be able to superconduct our way out of climate change. Good luck to him.

        If I want to get evidence of climate change, man made or not, I will listen to a climate scientist - not someone who just has a loud voice and a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

        Neither will I listen to anyone who condones such reckless business strategies as those displayed by - hmm, let's see - Northern Rock, for instance?
        • thumb
          Apr 26 2012: The point is, of course, that it is beyond ridiculous the way "science" approaches the subject, beckoning its members to plead that evidence against global warming is incontrovertible. That is NOT the scientific method, that states that all theories might be falsified at all times. A scientific theory is by definition not incontrovertible. And all that oppose that are not practicing science, but political activism.
          And to attack mr Ridley ad hominem is unfair, he is a highly respected science writer.
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2012: What makes Mr Ridley respected and climate scientists not?

        Why is climate science 'political activism'?

        Are you saying that the science that denies climate change, is NOT active politically?

        After all, would it not be more profitable politically to preserve our westernised opulence at all costs? (You never know, it might just win a few votes at the next election...)
        • thumb
          Apr 27 2012: From climate gate mails, to APS asking of their members to name the evidence for Global warming incontrovertable, also this example: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/the-importance-of-context.aspx and of course the fact that any form of scepticism is immediately labeled as a denier.
          It is clear to me that the goal of climate change research has shifted from truthfinding to political activism. They are so convinced that they are doing the right thing, namely trying to get global leaders to cut back emissions, that convincing the public has become a higher priority than objective and unbiased science.
          There are also many vested interests in climate science.

          And to be clear, neither mr Ridley, nor I "deny" man-made global warming.
        • thumb
          Apr 27 2012: Btw, you seem unfamiliar with the scientific method:

          A hint, getting people to sign forms stating that evidence on global warming is incontrovertible does not fall under the scientific method. And falsifiability is a key concept.
      • thumb
        Apr 27 2012: I'll leave you with this article by Michael Mann in New Scientist:


        If you do not deny the existence of man-made global warming, it means that you have listened to climate science. Congratulations on having such a balanced view.

        This might help to explain the anatomy of a denier:


        ...but then you will probably deny it.
        • thumb
          Apr 27 2012: The second article is behind a paywall.
      • thumb
        Apr 27 2012: I think this is where our conversation ends Victor.

        Thanks for the exchange.
    • thumb
      Apr 25 2012: And to claim the end of oil is doom mongering.

      “I take this opportunity to express my opinion in the strongest terms, that the amazing exhibition of oil which has characterized the last twenty, and will probably characterize the next ten or twenty years, is nevertheless, not only geologically but historically, a temporary and vanishing phenomenon – one which young men will live to see come to its natural end” (1886, J.P. Lesley, state geologist of Pennsylvania).

      “There is little or no chance for more oil in California” (1886, U.S. Geological Survey).

      “There is little or no chance for more oil in Kansas and Texas” (1891, U.S. Geological Survey).

      “Total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels of oil, perhaps a ten-year supply” (1914, U.S. Bureau of Mines).

      “Reserves to last only thirteen years” (1939, Department of the Interior).

      “Reserves to last thirteen years” (1951, Department of the Interior, Oil and Gas Division).

      “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade” (President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1978 to the entire world).

      “At the present rate of use, it is estimated that coal reserves will last 200 more years. Petroleum may run out in 20 to 30 years, and natural gas may last only another 70 years” (Ralph M. Feather, Merrill textbook Science Connections Annotated Teacher’s Version, 1990, p. 493).

      “At the current rate of consumption, some scientists estimate that the world’s known supplies of oil … will be used up within your lifetime” (1993, The United States and its People).

      “The supply of fossil fuels is being used up at an alarming rate. Governments must help save our fossil fuel supply by passing laws limiting their use” (Merrill/Glenco textbook, Biology, An Everyday Experience, 1992).

      Quotes like these could fill hundreds of pages easily. l'histoire se repete, don't even mention 'this time is different', the 4 most dangerous words in predicting the future.
      • Apr 25 2012: The thing I see is that as the more readily accessible fossil fuels are used up the price rises. As the price rises the less accessible resources then become economically viable and worthy to exploit which is why we see the current interest in non-conventional fossil fuels such as tar-sands and shale gas. Why should we as 'citizens of the globe' continue to be reliant on increasingly expensive energy? To keep the jobs in the fossil fuels industry if so why?

        If it has to go, it has to go, that's called progress.
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2012: Progress is also gas prices falling, hitting record lows for years. Electricity cheapened by 95% in the 20th century. Fossil fuel are not increasingly expensive. Oil e.g. was more expensive in 1865 than it is now. the high oilprice now is a temporary anomaly that will vanish when natural gas will continuously take a bigger share of the energy market.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: I am certain that most individuals would agree that current predictions for the state of the planet's oil reserves is grossly inaccurate. There is little need to spout such dated commentary. However, you cannot argue that the planet has an infinite supply of oil, nor can should you argue that is should be exhausted completely. As Terry points out, we will never fully deplete the planet's oil as it will some day become too costly to extract.

        The end of oil is not doom mongering, it is fact. It may not be the end in a physical sense, but the end for our extraction and consumption? - yes.
        • thumb
          Apr 25 2012: The need to give these historical commentaries is to provide a historical framework on man's view on oil reserves. That we constantly see the end of oil is an intrinsic human characteristic, not a valid physical descriptions of the working of the world.
      • Apr 26 2012: Actually gas prices are only at a 'record low' with respect to 2004 prices.


        On the graph near the bottom can see the adjusted real-world prices, this shows what actually happens to finite resources as demand grows. The graph near the top shows the price spiking that happens owing to standard economic supply/demand/extraction issues. The figures for 2012 if they were included in the graph would show the price at slightly less than the 2009 end of the graph but still higher than the 2002 prices.

        With respect to my home region of Europe I can safely say that as an end consumer of natural gas (rented accomadation forces that despite requests to the landlord) I certainly have seen no cheap gas prices at all, only a year on year rise, most noticably an 18% rise over 6 months recently. The energy companies are certainly not passing on any savings to consumers. And no this is not due to carbon taxes proposed by mad enviornmentalists before you try to use that argument. Certainly carbon taxes are not ideal, which is why I prefer the fee and dividend system not the cap and trade system which allows comanies, in effect, to make a profit from trading pollution.
        • thumb
          Apr 26 2012: "The spot price of natural gas fell below $2 per million BTUs this week, reaching lows not seen since 2001 in nominal terms (see chart above, data here).

          When adjusted for inflation, the $1.88 spot price on Monday could likely have established a new all-time record low for natural gas (EIA data only go back to 1997)."


          Europe will follow when they embrace shale gas and decouple oil from gas.
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2012: The butterfly biologist Ehrlich should keep the creation of formulas to people that actually do science.
    This formula is more a reflection of Ehrlich's misanthropic pessimism than reality, in reality the environment and GDP are linked by a Kuznet curve:
    And there are plenty examples in the developed world that support that, from cleaner air and water, to returning bisons, wolfs, bears, forests and expanding reserves.

    You sound like monks when preaching against consumption.
    • thumb
      Apr 24 2012: I would encourage you (if possible) to read a 2010 article in Nature entitled "Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity". The authors point out that for freshwater systems, the Kuznet curve does not apply. The richest of countries tolerate high levels of stress on aquatic symptoms, and focus their economic resources at treating the problems later. While the Kuznet curve may apply to enviornmental issues such as air quality or deforestation, I feel it would be naive to simply assume it applies to the issue of biodiversity as well.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: And maybe you want to read this:
        Which explains nicely that all extinction rates are ridiculously overestimated, that hardly any continental animal got extinct in the last 500 years, that extrapolation of Wilson's back of the envelope species-area relationship to the continents is proposterous and that all dire prediction come more from political activism than hard science.
        Life is much more resilient than we presume, we are unable to kill species we want to have dead, such as diseases, malariamosquitos, rats or cockroaches, and nature constantly rebounds much faster than we expect, such as fish populations, corals, bird populations and whales.
        • thumb
          Apr 26 2012: Willis Eschenbach's article is full of typographical errors and misinformation. I couldn't find a single article that cited it, usually meaning the information isn't accurate enough for others to use, and most of the reader's responses pointed this out as well. What about bluefin tuna populations? The global catch of wild fish leveled off over 15 years ago and 85 percent of the world's fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline. As for coral reefs, they are not rebounding. In fact, they are in crisis! An estimated 25% have already disappeared and an estimated two-thirds of all coral reefs are at risk today. If you are talking about European starling populations, yes, they are definitely doing just fine. While humpback whales have made a "comeback", they are still in low enough numbers to remain an endangered species. Northern right whale numbers are estimated at 500 to 1000 individuals. I'd say that's cause for concern. Most scientists agree that we are currently entering into the 6th major extinction event in Earth's history. And although extinction is a naturally occuring event, the rate at which it is occuring is very fast and undoubtedly human caused.
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2012: @Nickie DeReu
        Individual examples are irrelevant, large scale extinctions do not show any sign in occurring, the theoretical basis is very weak (the area species relationship is way to simple in explaining extinction rates).
    • Apr 25 2012: Hi Victor,
      So are you seriously suggesting that a butterfly biologist doesn't do science? I find that somewhat ungenerous do you perhaps espouse the view of Rutherford(?) that all science is either physics or stamp collecting? The reason that we see things like Kuznet curve relationships in the more developed countries is that they can afford to export a lot of their manufactoring and resource extraction to the less developed parts of the globe.
      • thumb
        Apr 25 2012: nonsense, the US or Europe manufacture more now, than ever before.
        • Apr 26 2012: I'm sorry I should have phrased that better. Multi-national and local corporations in less developed countries are able to produce at reduced prices. In part this is due to exploitation of workers with lower wage expectations and from those countries more lax environmental regulations. These products are then exported to consumers in more developed countries for consumption, hence the pollution involved in manufacturing is exported. The argument for resources extraction still stands.

          Hope this is clearer :)
      • thumb
        Apr 26 2012: And I can possibly not become clearer. But your argument fails on two accounts, the 1st is that the West has never produced more and manufactured more domestically than ever before, so they dont export pollution necessarily; the pollution is due to lack of regulation/difference of prioritization in developing countries. The second is that developing countries are improving the most, they benefit enormously thanks to their trade with the developed world. Never before did so much lives improves so dramatically fast as they do now.